So the news is now confirmed; former Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville has been named the new England Head Coach.
The left field appointment has been met with a combination of cynicism, sarcasm and despair by some, but also intrigue and curiosity by others.
Here we have an individual with no experience as a Head Coach (other than one game as caretaker), and no background in the women’s game. In addition, his sudden following of England squad members on Twitter was an early indicator that he doesn’t know much about the players he will ultimately be leading.
But what we also have is a coach who, as a player, is used to winning, and winning with one of the biggest clubs in the world having working under one of the most respected managers of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson
But is that enough to warrant walking into a job that sees him take charge of a team currently ranked third in the world and coming off the back of two major tournament semi-finals?
It is understood that while the players have an unquestionable respect and fondness for interim Head Coach Mo Marley, many of whom were brought through the youth ranks on the international scene by the former Everton manager, they wanted someone who could take them that one extra step – to a final and ultimately to a major tournament triumph.
There are no guarantees that any appointment would present that extra step, even if John Herdman (no final with Canada), Laura Harvey or Nick Cushing (no international experience) had been offered the job.
But can he get the best out of the players, and will they buy into a coach whose only experience of an England Women’s match is what he has probably checked on Twitter.
This is a side ranked number one in Europe, with a talent pool bigger than ever, and the majority of players playing in a league that is going fully professional from next season.
They will expect nothing less than a dedicated, knowledgeable and driven individual who shares the same ambitions as they do – to be the best team in the world and to win a World Cup.
Can Neville deliver that? Not on his own, no. He needs to surround himself with people who know the game, how it operates, and who already has the trust of the players.
As for the fans, he may have an even bigger job to win them over.
Expectations after a third-place finish at the World Cup and a semi-final at last year’s EUROs are higher than ever, so anything less at the World Cup in France next year, would be deemed a failure.
Tweets unearthed from the past will also not go down well with a football community that is, understandably, incredibly vocal on equality and protective of the women’s game. Neville has since issued an apology stating that the tweets “were not and are not a true and genuine reflection of my character or beliefs.”
The online posts have taken the conversation away from the fact that, in essence, Neville is not experienced enough to take on a role of this magnitude, and if a female in his position was going for a job in the men’s game, they wouldn’t even have their CV acknowledged, let alone considered.
What makes the tweets all the more concerning is that due diligence was a big part of the application process following the sacking of Mark Sampson, and yet, here we are in a position where a ball hasn’t even been kicked under Neville, and he’s already under pressure a day after his appointment.
Here are the historical tweets that Phil Neville has been forced to apologise for pic.twitter.com/OVIuzkQOs8
— Dan Roan (@danroan) January 24, 2018
He’s not the first and won’t be the last to make errors on social media, and the question is how far back do you have to go to discover wrong doing (six years in this case). But this should have been ironed out before his appointment was made public, and the reaction has resulted in him deleting his Twitter account, and ultimately, overshadowed his appointment.
There is no question that when his first press conference arrives, he will have difficult questions to answer on his past social media activity, which will frustrate the FA having had such a hard time during Mark Sampson’s last few weeks in charge.
This is something both the governing body and Neville are going to have to get used to. The media landscape has changed dramatically in the last six months and every move Neville makes will be monitored and scrutinized.
Any slip up will be in the papers, and poor results will be criticised much heavier than they may have been in the past.
But Neville is not the first coach to make the move from the men’s game with no experience of the women’s.
He will hope to be more Nils Nielsen, the former Denmark coach who took his team to the EURO 2017 final last year, than Olivier Echouafni, who lasted just a year in his role with France after a disastrous EUROs. Both came into their respective roles with no experience of the women’s game, and both had differing fortunes.
Ultimately, the decision has been made, and while it will take time to win over fans, if Neville can open with a strong SheBelieves Cup, he’ll go some way to convincing them he’s right for the role.
Starting with three of the top six ranked teams in the world is no easy task, with USA and Germany at one and two respectively, and France at six. Last year England performed admirably in the mini-tournament, beating the USA on home soil for the first time, and losing out only narrowly to France and Germany.
Unfavourable results will be forgiven in those three games if performances are positive, but if both prove to be substandard, then Neville will be under early pressure and will have work to do to convince his doubters.
The target is World Cup 2019, and for that, Neville hasn’t just got to get used to his own team, but those he could face next year.
Does he know Lieke Martens? Carli Lloyd? Nadine Kessler? Granted, the last of the three has retired, but these are the three previous winners of the FIFA World Player of the Year. He should know all of them, because he may end up coming up against Lloyd or Martens.
It’s a big ask, but surrounding himself with the likes of Casey Stoney will be huge in trying to get used to his new environment and how the women’s game operates.
He’d also be advised to visit every FA WSL club between now and the end of the season as well. It is my understanding he will meet with the General Managers of those clubs very soon, but getting coaches and managers on side will be important for feedback and updates. Isolate them and you are losing out on valuable insight and information.
The next six months will tell us a lot about Phil Neville and his coaching credentials. But initially fans should give him a chance to prove himself. If he fails, it will be an experiment that may derail England’s progress towards becoming a leading international superpower, and the FA will be under even more pressure.
If he succeeds, it will likely mean the Lionesses have won a major tournament, which is what everyone wants – the fans, the players, the FA, and ultimately, Neville himself.